Aside from a manga adaptation, Kill la Kill The Game: IF is the first expansion to the story of 2013’s Kill la Kill, the hit anime series that put Studio Trigger on the map. Kill la Kill IF captures the unique fighting styles of the main cast of characters from the anime in arena battles, while also delivering some enjoyable missions to tackle in the single-player campaign. It doesn’t manage to deliver a balanced competitive landscape, but there is a delightful collection of rewards to work towards in Kill la Kill IF–supplying a satisfying incentive for replaying the single-player content.
Kill la Kill follows Ryuko Matoi, who transfers to Japan’s prestigious Honnouji Academy in hopes of finding answers to her father’s murder. Her only clue is half of the giant scissor used to kill him. Honnouji Academy is run by fascist student council president Satsuki Kiryuin and her closest allies: the Elite Four. Students at the school wear Goku Uniforms, each providing enhanced strength and superhuman abilities. Realizing Satsuki recognizes the scissor blade she carries, Ryuko attacks and demands answers, only to be ultimately trounced by the president’s underlings. After escaping, Ryuko stumbles upon a sentient sailor uniform who gifts her with god-like magical girl powers when it feeds on her blood. Now much more powerful, Ryuko swears to defeat the entire student body of Honnouji Academy and gain the answers she seeks.
Kill la Kill IF is a “what if” scenario, asking, “What if Satsuki was the protagonist of Kill la Kill?” The hypothetical is explored in the game’s campaign extraordinarily well, putting forth the theory that Satsuki may have been the brilliant mastermind behind the anime’s entire narrative from the very beginning, tragically refusing the spotlight she wants because she believes her plans for a better world will work out for the better if Ryuko is the main hero. It’s a fascinating addition to Kill la Kill’s lore, and it provides plenty of incentive to see the game’s two-part campaign all the way through.
Combat in Kill la Kill IF is pretty easy to pick up, with your staple combination of close-range, long-range, aerial, guard-break, and special attacks. There’s also a rock-paper-scissors-style clash system that allows you to buff yourself if you’re lucky enough to win. Though every character controls the same, each has a completely different specialty and unique playstyle. Masochistic Ira Gamagoori becomes more powerful by whipping and damaging himself, for instance, while petite Nonon Jakuzure excels at shooting her opponent from a distance and manipulative Nui Harime relies on decoys to overwhelm her opponents from multiple angles. Though the roster does offer a diversity of playstyles, there are only eight options to choose from at launch. That’s a pretty small pool for a fighting game–disappointing given how massive Kill la Kill’s cast is. This is slightly offset by the alternate costumes that change how certain characters attack, but the adjustments aren’t enough to make the variants feel like brand-new fighters.
Exciting though the colorful combat may be, it also feels lopsided with no reliable means of defending yourself. Every fighter can block and dodge, but both moves are pretty slow so it’s fairly easy to just overwhelm opponents with aggressive close-range characters. Once caught in a combo, there’s only one way to recover, and that’s using a counter burst–a move that uses up half of your special attack meter. You have to deal out or endure quite a few hits to fill up the meter, so you can’t regularly rely on having a counter burst at the ready. And if you are caught in a combo and you don’t have that 50% of meter to burn, you just have to wait until your opponent stops attacking you. As a result, juggling can be a pretty big issue against difficult AI opponents or advanced players that know how to pull off the game’s longer, more devastating combos–which can lead to unfair and unfun matches.
Despite the issues with combat, battles in the game are wholeheartedly Kill la Kill, and they’re typically glorious fun as a result. Characters yell out the name of their special attacks–some with barely contained rage and others with malicious glee–in epic battle cries, each one animated in a cel-shaded rendition of Kill la Kill’s over-the-top style. The most powerful blows land with an impact, slowing down the action just long enough for you to understand the recipient is about to be very hurt. The addition of the luck-based clash system feels right at home too, giving you a last-ditch effort to maybe make a comeback–randomly screaming during a battle and luckily finding a deeper well of strength is extremely Kill la Kill. Sure, the lack of a reliable counter system means winning in these battles is less about skill and more about who can press the attack buttons more quickly, but that doesn’t change that most matches are still explosively epic, full of silly puns, and just enjoyable to play. This is especially true for most of the battles in Kill la Kill IF’s campaign.
There are a variety of obstacles to overcome in the campaign as the game offers more than what’s usually expected from arena fighters. Though there are still traditional one-on-one fights, Kill la Kill IF’s story mode is a mixture of various mission types. The most interesting ones take advantage of the constantly shifting alliances in the narrative. One battle has Satsuki, Ryuko, and Nui all fight in a three-way free-for-all, for instance, and another sees Satsuki go up against the brain-washed Elite Four in a one-on-four fight. Wave-based battles against a horde of enemies are thrown into the mix, too. The variety keeps the campaign from getting stale.
Though these types of missions offer a welcome change of pace for an arena fighter, they’re also held back by Kill la Kill IF’s traditional mechanics and features. Most arena fighters don’t need a mechanic to specifically focus on one combatant or a feature to alert you when an off-screen target is about to attack, as fights are pretty much exclusively one-on-one. In Kill la Kill IF’s campaign, where you occasionally fight multiple enemies at once and the only way to remain focused on a character is to stay near them, the absence of any such mechanic or feature is far more noticeable. It’s tricky to stay focused on the fighter you want when you and your opponents are being smacked around the arena, and it’s frustrating when you’re in the midst of a combo and you don’t know whether you need to suddenly dodge or block because you’re about to be attacked from outside your field of view.
Outside the campaign, Kill la Kill IF offers Practice and Versus modes, as well as a horde challenge and figure posing gallery. Given the risque nature of Kill la Kill, it’s a nice surprise that the figures’ available poses aren’t all that leery, though the offering of shots you can produce is a little sparse. The gallery feels tacked on as a poor replacement for a photo mode, which is a shame given how gorgeous many of the characters look while in motion. Versus runs without much issue, but the online ranked mode does confirm that this fighting game has a juggling problem that rewards aggressive attack combos as opposed to strategic play.
Both the Japanese and English dub anime voice actors reprise their roles in Kill la Kill IF, so you can enjoy whichever cast you prefer (it’s something a lot more anime games should do, frankly). Unfortunately, the English dub doesn’t perfectly match up in certain animations, so there are quite a few moments where characters are technically done speaking but their mouths keep moving. It’s no deal-breaker, as both sets of voice actors do a great job once again bringing their respective characters to life. The voices aren’t the only sound from the anime to make it into the game either. Songs from Kill la Kill are regularly intermixed into the originally composed soundtrack, including fan-favorites “Before My Body Is Dry” and “Sirius,” augmenting every battle and emotional moment with the same epic sensations as the anime.
The voice actors and soundtrack provide the biggest motivation to keep playing Kill la Kill IF. As you complete the story and win matches, you’ll unlock in-game currency that you can use to buy songs and special recorded messages. The messages that seem to be from the characters’ perspectives are an absolute delight, like Satsuki providing words of encouragement to those living in “this cruel world,” but most are from the voice actors themselves–Todd Haberkorn (Shirou Iori) teasingly relaying congratulations for beating the game, for instance, or Carrie Keranen (Satsuki Kiryuin) revealing just how much it meant to get a chance to do voice work for Kill la Kill again after nearly five years. It’s all phenomenal content–ranging from hilarious to heartfelt–which provides plenty of incentive to keep playing and earn more in-game currency.
Kill la Kill IF is clearly designed for fans of Kill la Kill who are looking for more ways to enjoy the characters, music, and battles of the anime series. Each fighter behaves as they do in the anime, and the excellent voice actor rewards provide a nice incentive to keep playing even after you’ve mastered every character. However, as a fighting game, Kill la Kill IF doesn’t deliver the expected harmony of offense and defense. And though campaign battles that are beyond the one-on-one formula are an awesome addition, the traditional arena fighting game mechanics aren’t designed to adequately handle multiple opponents. The campaign’s startling revelation is a fascinating turn of events for Kill la Kill’s story, though, creating a new and intriguing interpretation of one of 2013’s best anime series.